- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, 87, officially announced this week that he’s going for it one more time. The so-called “conscience of the Senate” didn’t surprise anyone Tuesday, when, to the usual crowd of rowdy supporters in West Virginia, he said, “Show me another 87-year-old man who’s got the energy that I’ve got, and I’ll eat your hat.” More on that in a moment, but first, it’s worth noting that Mr. Byrd’s historic ninth — and most likely his last — Senate campaign will surely be his toughest. Not willing to let the “King of Pork” walk away with it as he did in 2000, conservatives are rallying, as well they should.

Mr. Byrd is in a precarious position politically. He will enter the 2006 race holding a Democratic seat in a state which twice voted for President Bush. Normally, this would mean that Mr. Byrd is more to the right than his blue-state peers, but the senior senator is something of a political paradox. His great popularity in West Virginia owes much to the fact that, as a former chairman and current ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mr. Byrd has been bringing home the pork each and every year. That, as well as the tendency of neglected states like West Virginia to look fondly on their nationally recognized politicians, means Mr. Byrd has been able to wade skillfully through the ideological battles of the 1980s and ‘90s, and survive his troublesome past association with the Ku Klux Klan. Liberals howled when former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott spoke approvingly of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond’s segregationist presidential campaign, forcing Mr. Lott to resign his leadership position, but ignore Mr. Byrd’s documented racist past.

It must have something to do with Mr. Byrd’s leftward shift in his last few terms. Especially since the Bush administration, Mr. Byrd has been a reliable opposition voter, even when doing so earns him the label of hypocrite. The most notorious example was Mr. Byrd’s stance against Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s threat of using the nuclear option to override the Democratic filibuster on Mr. Bush’s judicial nominations, even though on at least four occasions during his 46-year Senate career Mr. Byrd was instrumental in amending Senate rules with simple-majority votes. As for his voting record, Americans for Democratic Action, which scores the liberal voting patterns of lawmakers, gave Mr. Byrd a 90 percent rating in 2004. His lifetime score is 61 percent.

Which brings us back to showing Mr. Byrd “another 87-year-old man.” Meet Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, three-term congresswoman from West Virginia, who is considering challenging Mr. Byrd next year. The American Conservative Union gave Mrs. Capito a 74 percent rating in 2004 (compared to Mr. Byrd’s 8 percent). While she has not announced her intentions, Republicans are not-so-quietly urging her to run. So are we.

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